NEW ORLEANS ? Three years to the day after Hurricane Katrina struck and devastated the Gulf Coast region, international humanitarian organization Oxfam America is questioning the readiness of the region to face yet another major storm. As tropical storm Gustav is heading straight for the region, residents who persevered and rebuilt after that storm are likely questioning how they will face another, and whether the state and federal commitment will be any better the next time around.
The unease and uncertainty comes as the region is still in the early stages of a post-Katrina recovery expected to take at least 10 years. With tens of thousands of people still living in FEMA trailers and just a fraction of the affordable housing in the region replaced, Hurricane Gustav or the next major hurricane to strike the coast is set to deal a crippling blow.
"The uneven and inequitable state of recovery of the Gulf Coast is a national embarrassment," said Oxfam America President Raymond C. Offenheiser. "The failure of our government to properly respond to the region is not only shameful, it puts the lives of individuals in the path of the next hurricane at risk. That is inexcusable."
A new Oxfam America report released this week, "Mirror on America: How the state of Gulf Coast recovery reflects on us all," reveals just how little has been done to recover from the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. More than 35,000 individuals are still living in FEMA trailers in the Gulf Coast and in Louisiana, just 25,000 of the nearly 82,000 affordable apartment units destroyed by Katrina and Rita are slated to be replaced. Families are living in half-finished homes or have exhausted their savings in order to rebuild. Inadequate insurance makes many families significantly less resilient.
Many residents who left after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have yet to return and many more say they will leave permanently should a new storm hit the coast. Since 2005, just 12 percent of African-American evacuees who returned to New Orleans after the hurricanes were able to find work, compared with 45 percent of white evacuees, according to the report.
Oxfam America is calling on emergency management officials to work closely with local service organizations, many of which were created in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Oxfam America is also deeply concerned that preparation for the next storm should not push aside the outstanding needs for long term recovery in the region. The next administration must create an Office for Gulf Coast Recovery headed by a federal coordinator; to make sure all federally subsidized housing destroyed in the storms is reopened or replaced; to require states Gulf Coast states that receive federal recovery dollars to provide regular reports on the use of those funds; and to ensure compliance with labor laws.
"The third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the threat posed by Gustav are far too sober reminders of how much more we need to do to fully restore the Gulf Coast," said Offenheiser. "We must fulfill our promise to rebuild the Gulf Coast and renew our commitment to a region that is a vital part of America."